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Wine

Everyone has a palate, revisited

When I originally wrote this story on February 11, 2006 – in the first two months of my wine blogging – I knew it was a risky story.  I considered the wrath of the wine gods (writers who held high positions in lofty places). And, that they could have my head on a platter, devouring it whole as a wine publicist. These writers all had their pinnacle positions, and the following post would perhaps challenge anyone not secure enough to allow anyone else to think that he or she could actually have an opinion.

I had even seen this insecurity among many of the trade people I had met along the way, when I presented a wine to them. Instead of tasting the wine and forming their own opinions, they’d ask, “What did Parker give it?”

(God bless Robert Parker, he made many a  brand, some of them my own clients… I have the deepest respect for him… Robert’s helped me to look good many times, within my own clients’ eyes.)

Still, I was baffled by why these retailers wouldn’t just get their own groove on and exercise the power of their own convictions. Then I realized that it was just laziness… If the wine had a great score from a credible source, they wouldn’t have to talk it up… Perhaps having so much else to do at their shops is a more real answer… Not enough of an educated staff, etc.

So, I wrote this, long before anyone within my own profession dared to even suggest this… going against the grain. Now, it seems like everyone is saying it, and not concerned when someone from a wine magazine looks at him or her as says disparagingly… “I see you’re b-l-o-g-g-i-n-g.”

Oops… someone read it and disapproved… To which I said, with a twinkle in my eye, “yeah.” (And, it wasn’t Mr. Parker, just for the record. He’s always been a perfect gentleman to me.)

Here you go, once again, just in case you’re yet to believe in your own palate’s preferences.

Everyone has a palate

Enjoy the process of your own discovery and consider this the memo.

Now you can’t say you didn’t get the memo.

It’s mind boggling, isn’t it, that so many among us haven’t yet gotten the memo? Also, that same group looks to others to tell them what they’re going just “love.” This reminds me of something that my father once said to me, “Some day, you’re going to ‘love’ fish!” He told me that as he was force feeding me, I was gagging, and he saw that as an opportunity to get another mouthful into me. I think you can guess that fish will NEVER be part of my repertoire, at least not in this lifetime.

So, here’s one of my missions… It’s to respect what everyone likes, or doesn’t like on his or her own palate, because a palate is such a personal thing. Something I’ve done along my learning curve is to get a sense of what others like, then I can base their likes against my own, as that knowledge gives me an idea of what I might, or might not, like. But, in the end, does that really matter, either, because I’m right back where I started… Everyone has a palate.

When I was reading “Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell, I came across the following and thought how this also relates to an experienced wine palate. We can’t expect to find all the details within what a reviewer has said within our own experience, because our collective experiences can’t be measured against anyone else’s. We can only enjoy what a reviewer said, and give it a try for comparison’s sake.

What caught my attention was a paragraph about how nonprofessional food tasters weren’t able to say why they liked or disliked jam in an experiment. The experiment was conducted in order to understand the difference between professional food tasters and people off the street (with different core abilities, right?).

“Jam experts, though, don’t have the same problem when it comes to explaining their feelings about jam. Expert food tasters are taught a very specific vocabulary, which allows them to describe precisely their reactions to specific foods. Mayonnaise, for example, is supposed to be evaluated along six dimensions of appearance… ten dimensions of texture… and fourteen dimensions of flavor, split among three subgroups… Each of those factors, in turn, is evaluated on a 15-point scale… Our unconscious reactions come out of a locked room, and we can’t look inside that room. But with experience we become expert at using our behavior and our training to interpret… and decode… what lies behind our snap judgments and first impressions. It’s a lot like what people do when they are in psychoanalysis: they spend years analyzing their unconscious with the help of a trained therapist until they begin to get a sense of how their mind works… All experts do this, either formally or informally.”

Aha! … either formally or informally… That’s the key, and I’m back where I started. Everyone has a palate. Enjoy the process of your own discovery.

4 Responses to “Everyone has a palate, revisited”

  1. joanne says:

    “To each his own” fits here very well. I often see people hesitantly apologizing for liking only white wine or sweet wine, or Rose’, or defiantly stating they drink only red. It’s okay! Don’t let anyone intimidate you into apologizing for your personal taste. Only the insecure wannabe wine “expert” will do that.

  2. Kurt Burris says:

    Think back to your youth, when did anyone set you up with a box of crayons and go through the colors. It happened to all of us, almost. When did anyone set up an aroma wheel and explain the difference between wet dog and mold? Unless we grew up in an unusual environment nobody ever gives us the vocabulary to describe wines or foods beyond good and yucchh. No wonder people are scared to put a voice to their palate. They are scared because they don’t have the vocabulary. That being said, some front line sales sorts are lazy. They might have the vocabulary to describe a wine, but they prefer one that sells itself.

  3. joanne says:

    Excellent reply, Kurt. Even the workers in wineries and tasting rooms often don’t have a good verbal command of descriptors. They/we also don’t have time to elaborate on characteristics of the wines when the room is crowded with visitors waiting to be served.

  4. […] is another article about palates by Jo Diaz for the wine industry to […]

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